Wednesday, November 3, 2004
Sentence of Aider or Abettor of Manslaughter Cannot Be Enhanced
for Leaving Crime
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The sentence of an aider or abettor of vehicular manslaughter cannot be enhanced for leaving the scene of the crime, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Writing for Div. One, Justice Alex C.
McDonald said the enhancement imposed by San Diego Superior Court Judge David
J. Danielsen on Lawrence Lamont Calhoun was improper. Calhoun was convicted in
the deaths of Shannon Jump and her passenger, Brian Hanson, after a collision
Calhoun was racing another driver at the time of the collision, but it was the other racer’s car—not Calhoun’s—that struck Jump’s vehicle. Calhoun made a U-turn after the crash and drove back to the scene, but then left and drove home.
He was convicted of violating Penal Code Sec. 192(c)(1), which criminalizes vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. Danielsen imposed the enhancement under Sec. 20001(c), which provides for an additional penalty of five years in prison for anyone who “flees the scene of the crime after committing a violation” of Sec. 192(c) or one of several related statutes.
The question posed by Calhoun’s case, McDonald said, was one of first impression.
The 1996 enhancement
provision, he noted, is known as “Courtney’s Law,” and was enacted in the wake
of the death of Courtney Cheney of
In fact, he said, sponsors of the legislation said the rationale for the enhancement was the difficulty in proving intoxication when a drunk driver leaves the scene of an accident.
“Accordingly,” the justice wrote, “legislative history supports an inference that legislators intended section 20001, subdivision (c)’s provisions to apply to direct perpetrators of the underlying offense and not to those persons who merely aid and abet the perpetrators of that offense.”
He pointed out that in People
v. Walker (1976) 18 Cal.3d 232 the state high court held that a firearm use
enhancement did not apply to those whose liability was derivative. The court in
“Generally, if a statute is intended to impose a derivative liability on some person other than the actor, there must be some legislative direction that it is to be applied to persons who do not themselves commit the proscribed act.”
“Considering the language of section 20001, subdivision (c), its legislative history, analogous case law, and the general rule of statutory interpretation in favor of a criminal defendant, we conclude section 20001, subdivision (c) does not apply to persons who do not personally or directly commit an underlying offense. Rather, that statute’s enhancement applies only to direct perpetrators of an underlying offense. Had the Legislature intended that the provisions of section 20001, subdivision (c) apply to aiders and abettors of an underlying offense, it could have expressly so provided.”
Nor, the justice reasoned, was the prosecution’s position aided by People v. Wood (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 862, a case involving Sec. 20001(a). That statute creates an offense, not an enhancement, where a person who is “involved in an accident” fails to stop and render assistance, he observed.
“That standard of criminal liability is broader than section 20001, subdivision (c)’s enhancement if the driver flees ‘after committing’ an underlying offense,” McDonald said. “Because Wood involved a different statute, different statutory language, and an offense rather than an enhancement, we conclude it is inapposite to this case and does not provide support for the People’s position.”
Justice James A. McIntyre concurred, and Presiding Justice Judith McConnell concurred in the portion of the opinion dealing with Calhoun. She dissented, however, from the court’s ruling the Danielsen improperly sentenced Calhoun’s co-defendant—the driver whose vehicle struck Jump’s—to upper terms on both manslaughter counts.
McDonald said it was error for Danielsen to rely on the fact multiple victims were involved to impose the upper terms, since the co-defendant was charged with a separate count for each death. But McConnell said Danielsen could have justified his choice on other grounds, and argued that the co-defendant waived his objection by not raising it at sentencing.
The case is People v. Calhoun, D042645.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company